I have attended hundreds of IEP meetings in my work as a special education advocate. Often, either parents or I will make a request, be it for an evaluation, an accommodation, or for an added or increased service. And then one of the team members will enthusiastically explain that what we ask for is really quite unnecessary, and justify this position with an excuse.
I think about excuses as obstacles on an obstacle course. If you get past the excuse, you can go on with discussing what your child needs. If not, that’s where you stop, at least in that meeting. Unfortunately, I find myself on those obstacle courses more often than I would like.
School after school, district after district, year in and year out, with inevitable predictability, I hear the same excuses. As a result, I have developed comebacks for all common excuses, so that I have a response ready to go without having to think about it every time.
And while I wholeheartedly hope that all your team are meetings are collaborative and productive, in case you are ever offered an excuse, here is your Little Book of Excuse Busters and Other Magic Spells.
In response to your concern about your child’s behavior or ability, a team member says: “It’s absolutely normal for children his/her age.” Many of his/her classmates are doing the same thing/are struggling in the same way."
Your Response: “Yes, I agree that typical children might have the same difficulties at this age. However, typical children will develop, mature and naturally grow out of “whatever it is” (or learn “whatever the skill”). My child has a disability in this area and will require intervention/explicit instruction/supports to get there, and that is what I would like to discuss”.
Comment: I hear this excuse very often. You do not have to respond in the same wording, but this is the gist of what you want to say and continue with the discussion. I have used this many times and it always works.
When you ask the team for a service, support or accommodation for your child, a team member says, “We have many other students in the district with this profile/disability who aren’t getting this support/service and are doing just fine.”
Your Response: I do not know anything about the situation of these other students, so I cannot discuss them. In this meeting, we can only focus on my child and his/her needs. Can we please keep our focus on my child.
Comment: Teams often use this excuse, and this is your answer. You do not know anything about these other children, their diagnoses, the interventions they are getting and their progress. You are in the meeting to be your child's voice. Do not get side-tracked and dragged into these discussions.
Excuse # 3:
When you bring up your concern that your child is not making progress, or that you would like an additional support/service on your child’s IEP, a team member says,
“The team feels that [student] is making progress”
“The team feels that X support/service is not necessary right now”
Your Response: “Special education law requires that team decisions are made based on data, not feelings. Each one of us has feelings about what we are discussing, and our feelings on this are different. Can you please share with me the data you have that you used to come to this conclusion?”
Comment: This is also very common, and more often than not there is no data, so the next step is to ask for it to be collected. If you have your own data (private evaluations, notes, clips, work samples, etc.) you can share them. With this, the conversation shifts to specific and measurable information. Both you and the team might learn nuances of whatever your stated concern was focused on. If your team cannot provide data and refuses to collect it, you should request a very detailed Prior Written Notice in order to create a paper trail.
Excuse # 4:
When you are asking for a therapy, type of instruction, or accommodation for your child, the answer is: “The student would not enjoy/would refuse this service”
Your response: “Special education law requires that the child has the specialized instruction and services that they require in order to access the academic and social curriculum and make effective progress. We need to make decisions/develop IEP based on what is required, and not based on child's preferences. It will then be a separate task for us as a team to come up with a good way to offer this service to him/her."
Comment: This is also something I hear often and a response that works well. You want to be mindful of your child’s preferences, but the IEP cannot be based on them. In many cases, especially with autism and its accompanying rigidities, child might have trouble accepting a service that is highly beneficial. It is not an excuse not to offer the child that service. It is a call to meet the challenge of helping the child recognize the need for it, and to make use of it.
Excuse # 5:
This one comes up when you bring up a concern about your child’s skill level and how it plays out at school. For example, it might come up if you are concerned about your child always spending recess alone, while other children are playing in groups. You might hear this response: “Student chooses to behave this way, it’s his/her personality not to want to do X (often used for social challenges).
Your Response: “You cannot make a choice if you do n